Daring Derings Gone

Last year Dering Employment hit Australian shores with a bang. Dering is a British company that was set up by a Deaf man, Stephen Dering. Mr Dering had been working assisting people with disabilities, particularly deaf, to find employment. Dering felt that there was a huge gap in the market in the provision of specialist employment services for the deaf in England. He decided to set up his own company and applied for some contracts with the British Government and was successful. From these first contracts Dering went from strength to strength. The company expanded rapidly and has market targets in France, Israel and Germany. As the story goes Dering had two Australian employees who encouraged him to tackle  employment service in the Australian market. Last July that is exactly what he did.

Dering is Deaf. In many ways he was an inspiration to deaf people. He showed that deaf people could be innovative and take on the system. He did so with panache. When his company arrived in Australia he took the Australian Deaf community by surprise. He came from nowhere!  Rapidly he set up offices in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. He employed workers in three states and even won contracts from the Australian Government. It is also apparent he had excellent contacts. He had arrangements with a number of big employment companies such as Sarina Russo  Job Access and Max Employment to service any Deaf, hearing impaired and deafblind clients that were referred to these companies. Both these companies have a huge presence in Australia and overseas. The world was Dering’s oyster – or so it seemed.

In October 2009 Dering advertised in Australia for a Managing Director. I was fortunate to be selected as one of the people he interviewed. He hosted a fabulous interview process that involved work-shopping and presentations. All the applicants had to meet and compete against each other. All the applicants were deaf. Dering was fortunate to have some of the cream of Australia’s deaf managerial talent at his disposal. While I was not successful I was extremely impressed by the process and set up. Whoever won the job, Dering would have been pleased.

Meanwhile Dering had even expanded into South Australia. Advertisements were made for new employment consultants. Partnerships were being established with agencies in South Australia for Dering to service their deaf clientele. Dering also won contracts to provide service through Disability Employment Services in Queensland for the Australian Government. They won a contract to do workplace assessments for deaf people who were seeking interpreting or technology under the new Employment Assistance Fund that is set to commence in March this year. All was set for a rapid expansion. And then suddenly news broke out that Dering was closing all its Australian operations. What a shock that was to everyone.

The new Managing Director had been chosen and verbally offered a contract. He was on the cusp of signing but was told his services were no longer needed. People employed as employment consultants were given notice that the organisation was closing down and they would no longer have a job.   Some had actually moved intestate to take up their positions. It is believed that Dering is trying to secure employment for these employees with partner organisations. The contracts and partnerships that Dering established and accepted, I assume, were cancelled rapidly. The dream was over!

Suddenly news filtered in from Britain that all was not well. The British based Operations Manager resigned. Staff were being laid off. It is clear something was amiss and that Dering was in the process of making some tough business decisions. Cutting operations in Australia would seem to be the first of these.

Most likely Dering made the classical mistake of over committing rather than consolidating its current successful operations. Dering, it would seem, set out on a course of too rapid expansion. Funds and resources were committed based on predicted outcomes. Unfortunately the predicted outcomes did not eventuate. Referrals did not meet expectations, in some cases apparently being zero. Dering found itself in a  classic cash flow situation. Most likely part of the issue is also that it has not been paid for services thus compounding the cash flow problems. Too much had been outlaid and too little was coming in. Dering had no choice but to cut his losses and get out.

It is an absolute tragedy because Dering was living the dream. A Deaf person made good – employing deaf people as staff and to manage the business. He was showing the world what was possible. He was a trail blazer. But it all went wrong. One can not help but fear what that will mean for deaf people in general. One can imagine the nay sayers using Dering as an example of how deaf people are a risky proposition in business. This is undeserved but an unfortunate conclusion of  Dering’s spectacular collapse in Australia.

To understand part of where Dering went wrong one must understand the employment support system in Australia. In Australia, indeed as it is in many parts of the world, the system is competitive. It is profit driven and to make a profit organisations that provide employment support for the Australian Government need to place people into employment and in large numbers. Although there are scales of support and funding for people with additional needs the system is simple – jobs equal profits!

Dering’s focus in Australia, while not entirely Deaf was mainly Deaf. The Deaf market in Australia is very small. To succeed a degree of diversity in the market is essential. They had scope to work with hearing impaired and deafblind but referrals received were largely Deaf. To be sustainable and profitable Dering needed a certain number of referrals. Clearly Dering’s calculations as to what the Australian market would be and what the market was, turned out to be far below what it expected. Perhaps overtime Dering could have built its client base but it seems it had over-committed and the money coming in simply could not sustain operations.

Sadly for Dering its Australian dream is over. Sadly for deaf people Dering did not succeed. For if it had succeeded it could have been a beacon for what Deaf people were capable of. Sadly there is also the human tragedy of people losing their jobs and people whose dreams have been shattered. One can only hope that Dering can salvage something from the disaster and recover some of the ground it has lost. More importantly we must all hope that Dering is judged simply as a business that made classic errors of over-commitment and over-ambitious predictions. Not on the fact that it is a Deaf business gone wrong!

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GAGGING

Politicians have really thick skins. They have to. They are subject to all sorts of criticism. Not only that they are often  symbols of fun. Caricatures of them are drawn that over emphasise parts of their bodies. Hence John Howard is often drawn as a short man with rubber lips and hugely bushy eyebrows. These caricatures are shown at will in the media. Insults are hurled at politicians left right and centre. Alexander Downer, the former stocking wearing leader of the opposition, once described current Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as a, “..cynical, immodest, mealy-mouthed, duplicitous, a boy in a bubble, a foreign policy imposter and unfit to lead the nation. ”  Ex Prime Minister Paul Keating was the master of the insult – He described ex Liberal leader John Hewson as, “…a shiver without a spine.” The vile ex leader of the Labor Party and aspiring Prime Minister that thankfully never was, Mark Latham, famously called the Liberal front bench, ” .. a conga line of suck-holes.”

When politicians are not insulting themselves they are being insulted by the media  or the public. The unfortunate George Bush is a particular  target of fun. He does not help himself by uttering gems of wisdom like , ” … Is it ok if I call you buddy – that means friends.” Popular American talk show host, Jay Leno, had this to say about Bush,    “..George Bush has the lowest heartbeat ever recorded by someone in the White House. Well, second lowest. Dick Cheney got his down to zero a couple of times.” Political satirist, Michael Moore, was no less scathing. Take this example,  “I personally hold Blair more responsible for this war than I do George Bush. The reason is, Blair knows better, Blair is not an idiot. What is he doing hanging around this guy?” OUCH!

Bush is portrayed as the ultimate buffoon. There are pictures all over the Internet showing him in a number of amusing situations.  He was once pictured reading a book upside down to a group of children. Who could ever forget the classic picture of him looking through binoculars with the lens caps still on. Whether the picture is genuine or not is of no consequence we are left in no doubt as to the opinion of Bush’s intelligence.

I write this because it has come to my attention that certain people have tried on a number of occasions to censor The Rebuttal. I personally know of approaches to people, who have then approached me and asked me to tone things down. Said one person to me recently – “.. Do you have to make it so obvious who you’re talking about?” We are a precious lot in the Deafness sector it seems. If something strikes us as being untoward we have to keep it to ourselves and not rock the boat. Criticize leaders in he Deafness sector? – GOD FORBID!

The Rebuttal was established primarily because it was felt that that certain people in the Deafness sector did not listen or take complaints seriously. It was felt that complaints and criticism of direction or policy were often fobbed off and kept behind closed doors.  Writing about these issues in a Public Forum like The Rebuttal is a legitimate way of bringing attention to the issues. Important concerns such as provision of services, appropriate use of funds, portrayal of deafness in fund-raising or the lack of leadership opportunities afforded to deaf people in the sector were all issues of importance that are generally kept firmly behind closed doors. The Rebuttal wanted to bring these issues to the surface, create debate and more importantly provide a voice to people that had been largely ignored and patronised.

It is not an easy thing to do.  Dean, one of our editors, often says that we cop other peoples bullets. He has a point because leaders in the Deafness sector actually feed us information about things that they are not happy about hoping that we will write about them.  We  have been fed minutes of meetings pointing out untoward issues. We have been fed emails showing what certain people are saying. We try to encourage these leaders, deaf and hearing, to write about their concerns themselves. For one reason or other they nearly always decline. WHY IS THIS SO? What do they have to fear?

For one thing they fear being sued. We know that certain people have threatened legal action for things that have been written by The Rebuttal and others. Gagging by way of threats like this is more common than one might think. Deaf Australia once had a popular discussion page where people often wrote of their concerns. Sometimes humour and satire were used on these discussion pages. A series of biting poems centering around the actions of one of the Deaf sector leaders eventually saw the page closed and made for members only. Why this happened we will never really know, suffice to say that free speech is not something that is encouraged.

Yesterday, Saturday February 13th 2010,  saw the Deaf community protesting , nationwide, about the lack of captioned cinema in Australia. This campaign was in direct opposition to the views of many of our Deafness sector organisations and leaders. The catalyst to this campaign was the Cinema Industry’s application for exemption to complaints under the DDA. Our Deafness sector peak bodies representing us on the issue wanted to support the application. They felt that some progress towards captioning in the Cinema was better than none at all.

But the Deaf community did not agree. They felt the Cinema Industry’s proposal was an insult that failed to recognise their rights and their marketing power. As they spoke out there were efforts to shut them down. Emails were sent to certain people asking them to butt out. The Rebuttal received an email that showed one of the bosses of these organisations felt the Deaf community’s opposition to the Cinema Industry’s application was directly because, “.. they don’t like me or us” ( I kid you not)  These organisations are supposed to be OUR voice, yet when we all spoke out they attempted to shut us up. THIS IS WRONG!

Thankfully the campaign did not falter and it led to yesterdays protests outside Cinemas across Australia. It is noteworthy that the campaign eventually received the backing of our representative organisations. They had to backdown in the face of the overwhelming tide of opinion. This is why people MUST speak out.

Speaking out is sometimes all that we can do. The Rebuttal is sometimes guilty of sensationalism. This is because we want to draw attention to issues. We sometimes use humor, sometimes emotion and often satire. We do this to trigger a response. BUT there needs to be more voices, strong voices, that are willing to stand up when they feel that our representative organisations are wrong. The Cinema Campaign is an excellent example of this. More importantly these voices need to be raised without fear of reprisals and threats of legal action. We ask of our Deafness sector organisations – DO YOU HEAR US?!

From Little Things Like Us, Big Things Can Grow. [ACTION ON CINEMA ACCESS]

The recent Captioned Cinema Exemption protest has stirred a huge response. The hard work of Deaf Australia and Deafness Forum promoting cinema access was mocked by the cinema chains who offered us a pittance in return and claimed they were being “generous”. So generous in fact, we were not allowed to make a complaint against them for two and a half years.

This exemption proposal might have gone unnoticed if not for the keen eyes of Arts Access Victoria.

They were able to pass on the exemption information and interpret it in easy English format to the public and harness support. Perhaps it was how they broadcast the news through email and Youtube.

Perhaps it was the people they chose to pass on the information to the masses. Most importantly, perhaps it was how they showed us that this exemption was wrong and why it was wrong, and their indignation sparked a flame inside of us. Instead of the defeatist attitude that we and our organisations often take, we were challenged to assess what our dignity and humanity were worth.

In a nutshell, we declared ourselves better than the patronising tripe the cinema chains were feeding us and the letters of protest to Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC formerly HREOC) began in earnest. At least 450 of them.

Instead of the defeatist attitude that we and our organisations often take, we were challenged to assess what our dignity and humanity were worth.

Arts Access Victoria organised a community forum in Melbourne. It was unfortunate that such forums were not held Interstate. It really is a matter of who is guiding the ship and the Arts Access Victoria captain, Ms Veronica Pardos, rose to the occasion. From that forum a meeting was organised to plan a multi-pronged attack.

The first point of attack was an e-postcard to be sent to Ministers of Parliament. This is an election year and targeting the Ministers that ARHC is accountable to is a judicious decision. Secondly, protests are being held all over Australia (with the exception of Darwin and Canberra) on Saturday 13th February at 11am at various venues.

A reasonable amount of secrecy over the venues was necessary so that cinema chains were not aware of where the protests will occur and shut us down before we begin. This is now public information and the venues for the protests can be seen at the Arts Access Victoria Website . Other links can be found at the end of this article. Check them out!

It is essential that we succeed!

So what exactly is being protested?

The rights of Deaf and hearing impaired Australians, young and old, to enjoy captioned access to any movie, at any location and at any time. No more watching only the movies chosen for us, and no more picking one of three possible and very unfriendly session times at only one location at best.

We are also protesting for audio description for Blind or vision impaired Australians.They also have not been granted access and while they can hear dialogue and sounds on the screen, they need an audio description of who is talking, movements of actors and other visual imagery pivotal to the story.

From little things, big things grow.

So if you are a Deaf, hearing impaired, Blind or vision impaired person, have a friend or family member who is also Deaf, hearing impaired, Blind or vision impaired, come and protest with us. Protest for our rights to have dignity and access to the same recreational activities that others take for granted.

Remember, from little things, big things grow. Make this grow and take a life on its own! We and future generations will thank you!

To find out more information about the protests, you will need to be a Facebook member. Search the group Action-On-Cinema-Access and join to become a member. Once accepted, you will receive information about the protest locations. You can spread this to your family, friends and work colleagues.

See you all there waving a placard!!

Related Links:

Community Protest Locations Announced

Action on Cinema Access

From Little Things Like Us, Big Things Can Grow.

Not long ago, we celebrated Australia Day. Sure Australia has its problems but generally speaking, we do live in a lucky country, free from civil war and a functioning democracy. Our attitude of giving people a fair go is legendary. Unfortunately this is not always put into practice and we are seeing an example of this now with the cinema chains deferring and avoiding the issue of providing access to Deaf/hearing-impaired and Blind/vision impaired Australians. It is not unfair to say they are being very unAustralian with their derogrative and contemptous attitudes towards us.

The United Nation Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities even lists “For everyone to be included, we need to change existing rules, attitudes and even buildings.” They outline a simple philosophy of non-discrimination, allowing for full inclusion and respect for disabilities and acceptiong people with disabilities as part of our diverse world. Yet, despite this, the cinema chains refuse to acknowledge our basic rights and celebrate our diversity.

It is UNAUSTRALIAN! It is UNFAIR!

Our organisations have worked hard. Deaf Australia’s President mentioned it had been a long, hard and often unforgiving slog. To have been offered such an insulting offer of just 0.3% of movies as “access” must have been akin to a slap in the face. Now is the time to show we are united as a community and show our deaf organisations they are not alone.

Email the e-postcards to the Ministers listed. Bombard them. Remind them of the United Nations Convention. Remind them that Australia signed this convention on 17th

July 2008. They are bound by this to allow us to have full inclusion in society. Send them your stories. Tell them about the kilometres you have to drive to see a movie. Tell them how you have to interpret a movie for your son or daughter. Tell them how you can’t enjoy a luxury night at the Gold Class cinema. Tell them about what you ARE TOLD YOU CANNOT HAVE! And ask why?

Attached with this edition will be the postcard. Send it. Forward it to your friends, family and work colleagues and ask them to send it too.

Check out http://www.artsaccess.com.au and find out the protest locations for Saturday February 13th at 11am. Remember they will be held in all capital cities except Canberra and Darwin.

Don’t be passive. Do not settle for three screenings of one movie per week at a fixed location when others have up to 15 movies or more they can pick from any day, any time, anywhere. You are the change that can make it happen.

From little things like us, big things can grow.

Related Links:

Community Protest Locations Announced

Action on Cinema Access